The Big Fat Warning Sign of “Hey First Name Lady”…


I was cracking wise on the internet a couple of minutes ago with some long time friends of the blog and Twitterverse, but a moment of reflection made me realize that the wise cracking was around a topic that still chaps my ass. Yesterday, another Tweep posted this…

Grab a strong cocktail if you decide to read the comment thread because (of course) some guy shows up to try to discern intent, context, blah, blah, blah, to make sure that the original poster was interpreting the email correctly.

Oh, silly girls and their silly, irrational girl feelings.

Or maybe it’s that this kind of stuff happens so damned frequently that it goes from being the occasional nuisance to a persistent, festering thorn in the collective backside of lady prof-kind.

Perhaps, by the time one of those lady profs gets frustrated enough to publicly complain about it once, it’s because it took 100 previous occurrences for it to finally put her over the edge and, perhaps, she (ok, maybe me projecting) is tired of having to smile and get over it.


I felt this entire interaction in a visceral way because I have the same damned thing going on today. I’m getting emails from someone as part of an attempt to organize a group and they’re all addressed to “Dear Dr and Prof So-and-So”…except for the one to me. I’m “Hey First Name”.  Sometimes, people still assume that I’m someone’s assistant, or postdoc, or whatever. Or that because I am female, they can be more “friendly” with me.

But, what I’ve learned is that when I get emails like that “Dr., Prof. and First Name”, it means that someone has the deeper assumption that Dr. and Prof. are the Big Names(TM) and I am the one who is actually going to get stuck doing all the work. I’m going to get bugged for every admin thing, I’m approachable. I’m going to be on the hook to get the project finished and I’m going to end up looking like I work for Dr. and Prof.

Not that this is what is happening or will happen to the original poster, but in my tiny neck of the world, these emails are a danger sign. Blaring alarm. Flashing lights. Walk away.


And re-divert energy to the collaborations and projects that are respectful and rewarding.

Addendum: Once upon a time a female colleague of mine who I really respect and admire made a comment, asking that we all just agree to call each other “Dr.” of “Professor”. Some folks objected because, of course, they should be free to make the choice to be called by their first name. But, if this tweet is a tiny little ethnography into the world of gender roles in academia, it says that women are not endowed with a privilege in the same way and, therefore, don’t have the power to choose to disregard it.  So, particularly in light of the gender disparity that still exists in academia, her request makes more and more sense to me each year. Agreeing on a consistent mode of address (either individually or as a group) empowers inclusivity, instead of highlighting privilege disparity.